Jan is one of the ladies I visit in a nursing homes as a hospice volunteer. She’s in her 90s and has a better memory than me most days. Her legs aren’t what they used to be, so she needs help getting out of bed and into her wheelchair in the morning.
On this morning, the attendants were either very busy or simply dilly-dallying. Jan really needed to get up and use the bathroom. The long wait was excruciating.
Did she complain?
“No, I couldn’t do that,” Jan said emphatically. “They might get upset with me and ignore me every morning. Then what would I do? Better to just hold my tongue.”
How many times have you wanted to complain about something but you held your tongue because you feared there would be repercussions? Instead of telling someone to go jump in the lake, you simply seethed inside? Isn’t that frustrating?
Speaking of which, have you ever told God that you’re #@%&!*d off?
And, why not? If we’re going to take God seriously, that means venting when things get under our skin, doesn’t it?
Not a week goes by when I don’t look up and some point and say: “Really?!? Is this the best you can do? Are you even paying attention here?” Or I get confused and frustrated, so I say a favorite prayer: “What the …. ”
OK, I’ve never been confused with Pope Francis.
The thing is, though, that it helps me feel better for a moment and collect myself. And I find that whenever I talk to the divine – even if what I’m saying ends with ?!? – I feel a connection. And if I’m not allowed to put all of my emotions into the conversation, complete with exclamation points and question marks, then it’s not much of a relationship, is it?
I know that we’ve been raised to think of God in more reverent and deferential terms. We don’t dare challenge the Almighty because, well, there’s that whole smiting thing. Better to treat God like one of Jan’s caregivers at the nursing home. Don’t give no lip. Just let it be.
But if we’re going to take God seriously, then shouldn’t we be treating God the way we treat those we love?
Let’s face it: Those we love the most are usually the ones who get under our skin the most. If we’re never upset with someone or hurt or challenged by them, then they probably don’t matter to us all that much.
Relationship involves putting ourselves into it and making ourselves vulnerable. And that sets us up for a lot of things. When we take someone seriously, we’re going to get frustrated and irritated and disappointed with them many times for many reasons. And them with us.
For doing something stupid. For being selfish. For being too needy. For not meeting our expectations. For not doing things our way. For ignoring us. For challenging us. For getting too close. For pushing away. For saying too much. For not saying enough. For falling off the pedestal that we hoisted them upon.
And on and on and on. The list is endless for each of us.
We’re human. It happens. And it’s a sign that relationship is happening, too. Real relationship, not the superficial, happily-ever-after stuff. And anger is a part of it.
But when there’s love, anger never writes the ending. We work through it and get to the point where we understand and apologize and forgive and laugh together. And the anger evaporates and leaves behind another deep, rich deposit of life-giving love.
So, what about us and God?
If we take God seriously, then shouldn’t we get upset with God? Treat God as though she/he is as real to us as the people we love the most? Isn’t God big enough to handle a little of our frustration?
We experience God through love, yes. But maybe through our indignation as well.
And here’s the really good part: No matter how much we lash out, the divine response is always unconditional love. A love that accepts and understands and soothes. A love that sweeps up our angry, frustrated, complaining selves and pulls us close for a hug. And reminds us again that we’re really adorable when we’re mad. And it’s all going to be OK. Really.
A love that challenges us and prods us to grow, knowing our response often will be to grumble and complain. A love that keeps reaching out to us, knowing our response will sometimes be to shrink back and mutter something colorful.
A love that’s OK with all of it because it wants only one thing: To be taken seriously, damnit.